Meghan Markles effect on QLD denim company

A GOLD Coast social enterprise, which was catapulted onto the world stage by Meghan Markle, is showing no sign of leaving anytime soon.

The success of Outland Denim, based at Tamborine Mountain, has been the result of years of hard work and sacrifice by Erica and James Bartle - and more recently, the subtle endorsement of the famous Royal.

The Duchess of Sussex famously wore a pair of their black Harriet jeans during her tour Down Under. Since then, sales have soared and big doors have started opening for Outland, which describes itself as a profit-for-purpose.

More importantly, scores of poor women in Cambodia have since learnt new seamstress skills and found a way out of poverty.

James and Erica Bartle of Outland Denim in Cambodia where they employ local women. Pic: Sam Jam.
James and Erica Bartle of Outland Denim in Cambodia where they employ local women. Pic: Sam Jam.

Outland jeans are sustainably produced by disadvantaged women overseas, many of them rescued from the horrendous sex trafficking industry - a fact that obviously attracted the attention of the duchess, known for her humanitarian heart.

Mrs Bartle, Outland's communications director, said traffic on their website exploded by 3000 per cent after Meghan was photographed in their jeans and the image was used around the world.

Within hours, the jeans sold out and while most companies would have scrambled to capitalise on the massive traffic, Outland continued with its ethical, sustained approach.

"We could have sent our production into overdrive and asked our staff to work 24 hours a day to meet the demand, but we didn't," Mrs Bartle said.

"We've continued with production and the Harriet jeans will be available in April, online and at local retailers."

James Bartle, of Outland Denim, discusses a pair of jeans being made in Cambodia. Pic: Sam Jam.
James Bartle, of Outland Denim, discusses a pair of jeans being made in Cambodia. Pic: Sam Jam.

She said although Outland did not have direct contact with Meghan and her staff, they were aware the Royal couple was interested in their jeans.

"We believed that what we do would have appealed to Meghan's humanitarian values but she had fallen pregnant prior to the Royal Tour, so we didn't really anticipate that she would be wearing denim.

"We were just as surprised as everyone else to see the images appear, which added to the excitement," she said.

"We only wish she knew the impact this has had on our business and the opportunities she has been able to help create. She's been quite outspoken about injustices against women, for example, working with World Vision in India, so we are delighted to have her support."

The Duchess connection has also played a part in negotiations for Outland jeans to be sold at major department stores globally.

The Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle wearing the Outland Denim jeans in Dubbo yesterday. Picture: Toby Zerna
The Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle wearing the Outland Denim jeans in Dubbo yesterday. Picture: Toby Zerna

Mrs Bartle, a softly-spoken, former Sydney journalist, describes Outland as a profit-for-purpose which carefully ensures that each step of its supply chain is ethical and sustainable.

And the overriding aim is to give women trapped in poverty or trafficking a way out.

"We make our jeans accessible and cool, but what's really important is that they're also changing the lives of women," she said. "We started out employing five seamstresses and we now have 83.

"They're a mix of women who have experienced trauma and those based in the local community, seeking work."

Mrs Bartle said despite achieving lower middle-income status in 2017, many Cambodians were still vulnerable to falling into poverty. However, she and her husband had seen positive changes there since 2011, which was very encouraging.

Interestingly, Outland's birth and the glamorous Harriet jeans worn by Meghan were inspired by a gut-wrenching experience of Mr Bartle, a Christian, who saw a 12-year-old working as a prostitute in Thailand.

James and Erica Bartle and their family in Cambodia. Pic: Sam Jam.
James and Erica Bartle and their family in Cambodia. Pic: Sam Jam.

"He was shaken to the core," his wife said. "He came back to Australia and decided to start work on Outland to help alleviate the plight of women in the same situation."

Mrs Bartle said the jeans appealed to a broad range of buyers and particularly, twenty-somethings keen to use their dollars to make a difference.

"We're encouraged that millennials are concerned about ethics and the environment, as well as good causes they want to support," Mrs Bartle said.

So, where to now for Outland?

"We're launching into the UK market and building on our presence in Canada and New Zealand, as well as partnering with some exciting retailers in Australia this year," Mrs Bartle said.

She will continue looking after their two young daughters and marketing the business, while James travels to and from Cambodia - very aware that the futures of nearly 85 impoverished women are reliant on Outland.

A local seamstress works on Outland Denim jeans in Cambodia. Pic: Amy Higg.
A local seamstress works on Outland Denim jeans in Cambodia. Pic: Amy Higg.

Mrs Bartle said they would continue to manufacture, market and sell their jeans, changing the life of one overseas woman at a time, and paving the way for others to consider ethically sourcing and manufacturing their products.

"We're encouraged that light is being shone on the plight of women who are underpaid and working in substandard conditions," she said.

"The fashion industry is being held accountable for this now. It's good to see there's a lot happening around the world to address this issue, with the UK leading the way."

Apart from its success on the international fashion scene, Outland Denim has already scored the highest A+ rating in the Baptist World Aid 2018 Ethical Fashion Report.



REVEALED: Gladstone’s winners at WorldSkills

premium_icon REVEALED: Gladstone’s winners at WorldSkills

IT WAS second time lucky for this Gladstone Ports Corporation apprentice.

How many babies were born since the Mater closed

premium_icon How many babies were born since the Mater closed

New data has shown a surprising increase of births at Gladstone Hospital since the...

Sisterly love as bub Adellyn makes three

premium_icon Sisterly love as bub Adellyn makes three

HADLEY Fernandez, 2, couldn’t contain her excitement about her new sister as she...